The FINANCIAL — Companies today are being called upon by their shareholders and other stakeholders to not only boost the bottom line, but also to help address some of the country’s most challenging problems, including those concerning economic development and the environment.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to companies taking responsibility for their impact on society. It is a concept whereby enterprises integrate social and environmental concerns into their mainstream business operations on a voluntary basis.
In this interview Salome Zourabichvili, the President of Georgia, talked with The FINANCIAL about the importance of CSR in the Georgian reality and her visions for future CSR initiatives.
Q. What are your goals in terms of CSR and sustainable development?
A. The Millennium Declaration of the United Nations is 19 years old. As you know, in 2015, Georgia also joined the International Convention on the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, which we use to contribute to defeating poverty, protecting the planet from ecological disasters, and taking care of the welfare of the population. This is a very responsible and at the same time beneficial process, since we have contributed not only to the development of the country but also to tackling global challenges, such as ecological and/or environmental measures.
Obviously, this is our concern. However, I believe that “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDG) are a very powerful framework for cooperation and opportunities for businesses to promote global development goals. SDG and CSR have the greatest potential to have a positive impact on the economic development of the country.
Q. What is the most important decision that you have made in this direction recently?
A. I always put special emphasis on environmental pollution, so much so that during my pre-election campaign I made the decision not to print advertising posters and put these up throughout the city’s streets. You might be surprised, but I prefer riding a bicycle to driving.
Q. What does CSR mean to you?
A. For me, on the one hand, it is a continuation of European traditions and on the other hand, the opportunity to support our country. CSR can bring great benefits to the local community and the environment. If you are a big business representative or a small entrepreneur, it means caring for the environment, caring for the welfare of the public. All the factors help each other in a strong social group. A strong user is a guarantee of business success, while the opposite can also be true. Obviously this is not only philanthropy, it is a very powerful instrument for promoting economic development of the country.
Q. What are the main contradictions that you see in the implementation of CSR by Georgian companies?
Due to the fact that CSR is relatively new for our country, there is not a well-established legislative environment that encourages similar types of activities. However, there is rich international experience and practice. In 1996, with the efforts of the European Commission, “CSR Europe” was created which is the unification of Europe’s leading business networks to develop CSR. Similar platforms are a unique opportunity to share experience and conduct political dialogue with the EU. The full involvement of such structures should be part of our great goal – integration into Europe.
What are the main achievements that have been reached in the development of CSR?
From what I have observed of recent events, I must say that we have positive dynamics. Important initiatives have been conducted in the areas of community development, as well as lawmaking initiatives, in support of education and environmental protection. By my observation, the financial and big business sector is more active. I would probably only wish for these initiatives to have a systemic character and that the essence of corporate social responsibility should be correctly understood. CSR is not an expense, it is an investment in the development of one’s own company, in the well-being of one’s own country. It does not need much of a budget, everyone can contribute to its development.
Q. In your opinion, which companies should do more in the CSR direction than they are doing today?
A. Again and again because of the novelty in business circles today, there is probably a multitude of differing perceptions of what exactly corporate social responsibility is. We must understand that this is not only charity but sustainable initiatives that should be focused on people’s wellbeing, environmental improvements, etc. Obviously, for large companies that are presented on foreign stock exchanges, they are even obliged to do so. Therefore, we need more involvement of SMEs.
Q. What would your advice be for companies in the direction of environmental protection and green development?
A. It is important for companies to concentrate on the sustainable use of resources, waste management, and the restoration of damaged ecosystems.
Q. What is our impact on the environment and how responsible are we?
A. Human impacts on the environment are enormous. Directly or indirectly, we are contributing to environmental pollution and climate change.
In recent years, the biological importance of the Caucasus has been recognized globally, due to its biodiversity. The Caucasus is also a bio-corridor between East and West, with contrasting topography and climate. Thus, careful attention and caution are needed to combat the adverse effects of environmental pollution on natural resources, our flora and fauna.
We will have a clear vision of environmental protection and try to make the highest contribution to this universal case.
Eva Bolkvadze – The FINANCIAL